Menopause is no longer the taboo subject it once was. Thanks to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow, more of us feel more comfortable talking about menopause, its often-stifling symptoms, and effective treatments. And let’s face it – it’s about time! Menopause has been affecting women since the beginning of time, and it’s a chapter we can’t avoid. It’s time that we can tackle it head-on to live a full, vivacious life, during the perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause years. We’ve delved into the menopause maze and myths to give you the answers to everything you need to know from the symptoms of menopause and how to tackle them, to the average menopause age, and whether hormone replacement therapy (HRT) really is safe.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
When we talk about menopause, everyone immediately thinks of hot flushes. While they are very real, there are many other less-talked-about menopausal symptoms – 34 to be exact. More common symptoms include low mood and depression, mood swings, difficulty concentrating or brain fog, poor sleep, forgetfulness, low libido, vaginal dryness, night sweats, changes to your period, weight gain, joint stiffness, aches and pains, heart palpitations, urinary tract infections (UTIs), reduced muscle mass, and weak bones (osteoporosis). There are also more unusual symptoms like vibrational feelings, dizziness, and a skin-crawling sensation thanks to changes in your nervous system.
“Understandably, suffering from symptoms can have a marked effect on a woman's confidence, ability to work, and impact on their relationships,” says gynecologist Dr. David Griffiths. Some women even express having suicidal thoughts and hallucinations.
So, why do all these symptoms happen, and when?
What is perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause?
“Menopause is a natural stage that happens to every woman when their ovulation and monthly cycle stop,” says Nicki Williams, founder of Happy Hormones for Life.
“Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has been period-free for 12 consecutive months. Perimenopause is the lead-up to that day and begins anywhere from around 2 to 12 years before menopause. Perimenopause starts when the ovaries start to run out of eggs and estrogen and other sex hormones begin to decline,” shares menopause awareness trainer, Bev Thorogood. Menopause is a single moment – a year after your final period. The time from thereon is post-menopause.
The average age to experience menopause in the UK is 51, but it can happen anytime between 45-55. For 1 in 100 women, it can happen before they’re 40 and is more likely to occur earlier after a medical procedure or treatment like chemotherapy or endometriosis.
So what can be done about these life-altering menopause symptoms? Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. Life doesn’t end at menopause, and there are lots of different ways to ease difficult menopause symptoms, from hormone replacement therapy (HRT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), supplements, natural therapies, and lifestyle changes, so you can stay healthy at every age.
How menopause affects your brain & mental health
The decline ofestrogenaffects just about every cell in your body and many women experience brain fog, forgetfulness, and loss of concentration along with anxiety, stress, and depression. It can all feel rather disorientating, like you’re losing yourself, but adopting healthy lifestyle changes like well-balanced nutrition, drinking plenty of water, managing stress levels with self-care, and exercising regularly can make a huge difference to how you feel. Turmeric and CBD can help you to relax and reduce chronic stress, while energy-boosting mushroom powders can help you to focus for more mental clarity.
How menopause affects sex & your vaginal health
Thanks to changing hormones, many women experience vaginal dryness which can cause pain during sex and low libido. There are lifestyle changes you can make and supplements to take that can impact both for the better. An intimate balm can be applied to increase vulva moisture for less dryness, itchiness, and reduced pain during sex, while energy-boosting gummies and intimate oils can increase sexual confidence, arousal, and sexual performance.
How menopause affects your skin & hair
"There are multiple changes to the body due to the rise of testosterone including, more facial hair, bruising easier because the skin is thinner, dry skin due to low levels of estrogen, and less hair on our head. In menopause the collagen levels in our skin decrease by 30% within the first five years, which is why we see more wrinkles, jowls, and slack skin. If you suffer from rosacea or any other skin disorders, you can see them worsen during menopause because the body's PH levels are changing so our skin becomes more sensitized,” says skin expert Hollie Simpson, founder of Our Skin Academy.
Naturally, collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid decrease as we get older. In order to regain the plump, dewy, bounce of youthful skin, we need to keep hydration levels high. “You also want to feed the skin with things that will help boost natural collagen production. Help the skin by consuming lots of vitamins and antioxidants, including vitamins A and C. These can be consumed using topical creams or supplements,” says Simpson.
“As the skin is also more prone to be sensitive and irritated, you want to replenish the natural moisture factors. Use skincare products that ingredients include ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterols. This will help build and repair the lipid layer of the skin which is responsible for the skin's moisture levels.”
How menopause affects your body
With decreasing estrogen and testosterone, women are at risk of experiencing osteoporosis and heart disease, as well as weight gain, reduced muscle mass, and joint pain. “All women will experience bone thinning after menopause. They will lose on average 5 per cent of their bone mass in the first year of their menopause and 1 per cent every year after that,” says Marcia Brophy, of Menopause-ology.
“Long and slow exercise traditionally associated and encouraged for peri and postmenopausal women isn’t enough to ensure bone, muscle, heart, and brain health. Women need to take a ‘use it or lose it’ approach. Including both strength training and impact into their exercise routine. Pelvic health can be a barrier to this type of exercise and pelvic organ prolapse can be a barrier to exercise for up to 50% of women,” says women’s health exercise specialist, Betsan de Renesse. Leakage is a common menopausal symptom, but over time, strengthening your pelvic floor can solve this uncomfortable symptom. “Your pelvic floor is a muscle like any other. It can be rehabbed, strengthened, and trained.”
“Yoga also helps to reduce stress, and can support in building bone density to avoid osteoporosis, and prevent muscle wastage,” says Brophy.
What is hormone replacement therapy and is it safe?
Hormones control just about everything we feel and experience, and the decline of sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, throws everything out of whack during perimenopause, hence the onset of undesirable symptoms. "It is a treatment to replace the hormones that you are deficient in. As a result, HRT vastly improves a woman’s symptoms and helps protect against the long-term health risks of hormone deficiency, including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease diabetes and dementia,” says Brophy. Despite the historical bad press, a recent report concluded that the benefits of HRT far outweigh the negatives, but it’s worth doing your research, especially if you’re more at-risk.
You can also level-up your nutrition with a hormone-balancing smoothie!
The Second Spring
Brophy suggests a new way of viewing the menopausal years for women. "In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this time in women's lives is referred to beautifully as “The Second Spring”, a natural stage of life when a woman can actually work with nature to have a positive impact on her health. Many women get a massive rush of energy and enthusiasm for life post-menopause. It can be a great time to take stock and make sure you’re happy and if not, make those changes – particularly as we are expected to live into our 80 years.”